3 challenges new coaches face – and how to overcome them

By Lisa L. Ortmann, Katherine Brodeur and Susan Massey
October 2021
Instructional coaches provide a unique and powerful form of support that can help teachers transform their practice, tackle new initiatives, and learn from one another. But coaches themselves often lack access to the support they need and deserve for coaching to have maximal impact. Typically, coaches have minimal preparation for the job and receive little ongoing guidance once they have started. Even with a clear understanding of the logistics and goals of a coaching program, many novice coaches still face challenges finding their stride. We work with practicing teachers learning to become coaches in graduate programs and through professional learning initiatives in multiple school districts. We are also engaged in an ongoing research study of new coach development. Over the last five years, we have

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Reflection questions and discussion prompts

Questions for coaches to reflect on coaching stance

  • What was the ratio of coach talk to teacher talk in the conversation?
  • Whose ideas are driving the conversation?
  • How are you and the teacher developing goals and determining progress toward the goals?
  • Is there a balance in responsibility for next steps?


Questions for coaches to reflect on responsiveness

  • When and how did the teacher cue for support? How did you respond?
  • Did the conversation go off track? If so, was it addressing the teacher’s concerns?
  • What happened immediately after the conversation went off track?


Questions for coaches to reflect on feedback

  • What did you notice about your nonverbal communication? The teacher’s?
  • What specific, observable details from the lesson did you seek to incorporate into the feedback?
  • What was the ratio of affirmations to observations?
  • How did the teacher respond to coaching questions and suggestions?


Bean, R.M., Kern, D., Goatley, V., Ortlieb, E., Shettel, J., Calo, K., Marinak, B., Sturtevant, E., Elish-Piper, L., L’Allier, S., Cox, M.A., Frost, S., Mason, P., Quatroche, D., & Cassidy, J. (2015). Specialized literacy professionals as literacy leaders: Results of a national survey. Literacy Research and Instruction, 54(2), 83-114.

Ippolito, J. (2010). Three ways that literacy coaches balance responsive and directive relationships with teachers. The Elementary School Journal, 111(1), 164-190.

Kucan, L. (2007). Insights from teachers who analyzed transcripts of their own classroom discussions. The Reading Teacher, 61(3), 228-236.

L’Allier, S.K. & Elish-Piper, L. (2012). Literacy coaches in elementary schools. In R.M. Bean & A.S. Dagen (Eds.), Best practices of literacy leaders: Keys to school improvement (pp. 43-62). The Guilford Press.

Lipton, L. & Wellman, B. (2007). How to talk so teachers listen. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 30-34.

Massey, S., Ortmann, L., & Brodeur, K. (2020). Training novice literacy coaches through coaching rounds. In R. Karchmer-Klein & K.E. Pytash (Eds.), Effective practices in online teacher preparation for literacy educators (pp. 150-170). IGI Global.

Ortmann, L., Brodeur, K., & Massey, S. (2020). The learner profiles of novice literacy coaches. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 59(2).

Peterson, D.S., Taylor, B.M., Burnham, B., & Schock, R. (2009). Reflective coaching conversations: A missing piece. The Reading Teacher, 62(6), 500-509.

Tripp, T.R. & Rich, P.J. (2012). The influence of video analysis on the process of teacher change. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 728-739.

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Lisa L. Ortmann ( is an assistant professor in the department of education at Gustavus Adolphus College. 

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Katherine Brodeur ( is an associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Bowling Green State University. 

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Susan L. Massey ( is an assistant professor and director of the master of education program at Upper Iowa University. 

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